Wednesday 27 January 2021

UK COVID Briefing 27th Jan 2021

UK COVID Briefing 27th Jan 2021 

I saw this one coming. 2 big announcements:

- some arrivals to the UK will have to stay in 'Quarantine Hotels'. These are commonplace worldwide, you have to pay yourself, and it keeps closer tabs on what you're up to. Initially it seems it will be for countries designated 'hotspots'.

- schools will not be going to back to being open to all pupils for in-person learning until at least 8th March 

UK Data:
Cases 3,715,054 (+25,308)
Losses of life within 28 days of a positive test result 101,887 (+1,725)
In-patients 37,605 (25th Jan)
People using a ventilator 3,961 (26th Jan)
Vaccinations 1st dose 7,164,387
Fully vaccinated 474,156
Losses of life with COVID on the death certificate 103,602 (15th Jan)

We have exceeded 100000 losses of life message from boris

Today's UK briefing was with Boris, Patrick Vallance and Jonathan Van Tam.

Boris started by saying he shares the frustration, stress and anxiety of teachers, parents and students. The ambition IS to get children back to school as soon as possible, but we only want to open schools when we can be sure it won't cause a huge surge in cases. Then Boris tells us schools are safe - then follows with 'by definition they bring together many households'.
(I think we all realise just how 'safe' it is possible to make UK schools, and it's not ideal.)

Boris talks about the number of people in hospital and the pressure on the NHS. We have reported our second highest ever daily loss of life today.
He says we need to see lowering of cases, hospitalisations, and the effect of the vaccines before we can begin to talk about easing restrictions.

The government will reveal the lockdown easing plan on the week of 22nd February.

If we continue to make the progress we believe we can see ahead, and vaccine targets are met etc, we hope to begin opening schools on March 8th.
Free school meal arrangements will be extended, and more 'catch up plan' money will go to schools for appropriate initiatives such as Summer schools, tutoring etc.

The lockdown easing announced in the week of 22nd February will not only cover schools, it'll cover everything, and it will inevitably need to be tweaked. (He no longer says "following the science", as we caught him out on that one too many times.)

With every jab that goes in, they are more confident they'll have immunised everyone in the top 4 vulnerable groups by February 15th. This is everyone who lives or works in a care home, frontline health and care staff, everyone over 70 and the extremely clinically vulnerable. 

Patrick with the figures. Grim, and sad. They are shown above. He reminds us that we have far more than another 25,308 cases each new day, because a lot of people don't have symptoms, don't get tested, get a false negative etc. The ONS random infection study estimated around 1m people currently have COVID, that's around 1 in every 55 people. 

Most areas are at a plateau. The lockdowns have worked. We can see the effect in lower new reported daily cases, and we ARE beginning to see an effect in hospital admissions, but it will come down slowly and so hospitals won't be back to non-surge levels for months. We have to remain cautious this whole time, we can't let our guard down. (Everyone's shattered.)

vaccinations take time to take effect

Public asked a clever question about how we will protect against people who have had their vaccine in a country which isn't so thorough - maybe they'll still be a risk? Jon and Pat didn't really cover that. They mainly just talked about restrictions on UK arrivals.
(I don't think any vaccines currently in use are likely to prove ineffective, I think it's more likely they won't be quite as flash as sometimes they're painted. China for example started vaccinating with CanSino before final efficacy data is through, but safety data is all in, and in early numbers it seems effective, but maybe nowhere near the 95% of Pfizer.)

Public asked about vaccinations for clinically extremely vulnerable children. Jon says it is possible to go down that route in extreme cases, and everyone would have to discuss and assess the situation. For the vast majority right now really we wait for trials to happen, and to finish (trials with older teenagers are already happening). There isn't any data yet on whether these vaccines even work in children, so it really is something we need to know more about. (Sometimes adult vaccines just don't provoke the correct antibody response in kids.)

Jon talked about transmission in schools and basically says "is there proof...? No". It's hard to prove the direct route of transmission friend to friend to teacher or vice versa without genetic sequencing to show the route it took. You won't get proof. Daft answer Jon.
We can't say exactly how much keeping schools closed will affect transmission, but we can clearly see it does. 

Press listed some of Boris' major errors over the last year. Boris again said he takes full responsibility. He says there are often no easy answers, and sometimes no good answers at all. There is time for learning of lessons, and a time answering questions, but that time is not best spent now. (They are rather busy for recriminations, but I'd like to see them actually learning.)

Press asked about vaccines, and equitable sharing around the world. This is big news at the moment (see below). Boris says he is confident in our supply. The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine is very important for our country, and for the world, and any pressure from the EU is "between our friends in the EU and AstraZeneca". 

Press asked: The head of AstraZeneca "has said that he has no doubt the number of people vaccinated in the UK will reach 28-30m by the end of February. Which would be enough for everyone over 50." Boris said again he is confident on supply. We have a plant in Wrexham (see below), so we don't only rely on imports. 

symptoms new get tested

Press asked about new variants. Patrick says we still are in the position where we believe the new UK variant is 30-70% more catchy, and shows some signs of being more lethal, because more people end up in hospital, but we still don't have anything more concrete. It could still be random - it seems 13-14/1000 people who catch the new variant succumb overall, as opposed to 10/1000 previously. 

Some initial Israeli data suggested that after only 1 dose of vaccine, only around 1/3 of people seem protected. Patrick says this is interim and patchy data, and there are other numbers which are much more positive. (This is true. I haven't yet covered it because they're all arguing it out over different figures, but some quick maths from Israeli Journalist Arieh Kovler suggests the effect has been very high, possibly a reduction of 90%+) Wait for something official to come in. 

Press asked why vaccinations are a bit slower, and what if the vaccines don't work?
Boris says supply will be up and down, so bumps will happen, but still confident and supply is there.
Boris said plan B is mass testing. We're going to keep developing testing anyway, but we have confidence in the vaccines.
Pat says vaccination supply is not consistent. "It's not making widgets", it is a 'lumpy' biological process - it is to be expected. He also has all confidence in the vaccines making a huge difference. 

How to self isolate

The European Commission is incredibly frustrated by the recent announcements that vaccine shortages are going against them - they may only receive around 1/3 of their orders in time as planned. (It does seem really rough.) Meanwhile, deliveries of vaccines made in the EU are being exported around the world (including the UK - some of our Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccines are mainly made in Belgium). Because of this, they are considering limits on exports.
This is where the politics really begins. Squabbling between nations won't be pretty. The UK aren't publicly saying how many vaccines we have in hand, although Boris assures us we have enough for the first 4 priority groups - which is already more than most countries.
It seems likely there will be some arguing - lives are at stake for everyone - so really we have to expect there may be blips and pauses in vaccine rollout, due to supply. 

There was a security alert at the Wrexham producer and storage facility for COVID vaccines on Wednesday morning, due to a suspicious package. Yes indeed, there will be crazy people out there who think no-one should be vaccinated... 

If your family are all ill, but everyone can still smell and taste dinner, it's always been less likely to be COVID. However... bad news is that the latest ONS survey has found with the new variant, anosmia (changes to smell and taste), is less of a feature... Or is it good news? It's one less symptom? You decide... Jon Van Tam reminded us today that lateral flow testing is available in many areas now, and you don't have to have classic symptoms to go and get a test.

Look out for a new continuous cough, fever, shortness of breath, and to a lesser amount, all that other stuff you get when you have a bad cold... and anosmia.

Back tomorrow with the usual report... 


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